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Law School Case Brief

Greer v. Spock - 424 U.S. 828, 96 S. Ct. 1211 (1976)

Rule:

The guarantees of the First Amendment have never meant that people who want to propagandize protests or views have a constitutional right to do so whenever and however and wherever they please. The state, no less than a private owner of property, has power to preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated.

Facts:

Fort Dix, a federal military reservation devoted primarily to basic training for newly inducted Army personnel, and over which the Government exercises exclusive jurisdiction, permitted free civilian access to certain unrestricted areas. However, post-regulations banned speeches and demonstrations of a partisan political nature and also prohibited the distribution of literature without prior approval of post headquarters. Pursuant to these regulations the commanding officer of Fort Dix rejected the request of respondents Benjamin Spock and Julius Hobson, candidates for President and Vice President, respectively, to distribute campaign literature and hold a political meeting on the post. The other respondents, who had been evicted on several occasions for distributing literature not previously approved, were barred from re-entering the post. In light of the events that transpired, Respondents brought suit to enjoin enforcement of the post-regulations on the ground that they violated the First and Fifth Amendments. The District Court issued an injunction prohibiting the military authorities from interfering with the making of political speeches or the distribution of leaflets in areas of Fort Dix open to the general public, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Issue:

Were the post-regulations banning speeches and demonstrations, and distribution of literature of political nature, invalid and unconstitutional?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the regulations were not constitutionally invalid on their face. The Court opined that since under the Constitution it is the basic function of the military installation like Fort Dix to train soldiers, not to provide a public forum, and since, as a necessary concomitant to this basic function, a commanding officer has the historically unquestioned power to exclude civilians from the area of his command, any notion that federal military installations, like municipal streets and parks, have traditionally served as a place for free public assembly and communication of thoughts by private citizens was false, and therefore respondents had no generalized constitutional right to make political speeches or distribute leaflets at Fort Dix. The Court further ruled that the regulations were not unconstitutionally applied under the circumstances of this case. As to the regulation banning political speeches and demonstrations, the Court averred that there was no claim that the military authorities discriminated in any way among candidates based upon the candidates' supposed political views; on the contrary it appears that Fort Dix has a policy, objectively and evenhandedly applied, of keeping official military activities there wholly free of entanglement with any partisan political campaigns, a policy that the post was constitutionally free to pursue. As to the regulation governing the distribution of literature, a military commander may disapprove only those publications that he perceives clearly endanger the loyalty, discipline, or morale of troops on the base under his command, and, while this regulation might in the future be applied irrationally, invidiously, or arbitrarily, none of the respondents even submitted any material for review, and the non-candidate respondents had been excluded from the post because they had previously distributed literature there without attempting to obtain approval. 

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